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We Will Ride: 43 years after the 'Gang of 19' protests
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"Gang of 19" activists protest for accessible RTD buses in Denver, July 1978
Denver Public Library Western History Collection Archives, Rocky Mountain News (1978, July 6)

DENVER — Monday, July 5, marks the 43rd anniversary of a watershed moment in the Disability Rights Movement.

On July 5 and 6 in 1978, a group of 19 individuals from the Atlantis/ADAPT Community blocked the busy intersection of Broadway and Colfax in downtown Denver in a protest against the lack of wheelchair accessibility for RTD buses. The group of disability activists, who became known as the “Gang of 19,” blocked traffic and chanted “We will ride!” until the city and RTD agreed to make the buses accessible to people who use wheelchairs.

Today, a plaque at Broadway and Colfax commemorates the activist’ efforts.

These are the names of the Gang of 19:

  • Linda Chism-Andre
  • Renate Rabe-Conrad
  • Willy Cornelison
  • Mary Ann Sisneros
  • Carolyn Finnell
  • George Roberts
  • Mel Conrardy
  • Bobby Simpson
  • Debbie Tracy
  • Jeannie Joyce
  • Kerry Schott
  • Jim Lundvall
  • Lori Heezen
  • Glenn Kopp
  • Bob Conrad
  • Larry Ruiz
  • Cindy Dunn
  • Paul Brady
  • Terri Fowler

 

In 2018, Colorado Experience took a deep dive into the history of the Gang of 19, and how their activism contributed to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.

Colorado Experience

The Gang of 19 - ADA Movement

Meet the brave Coloradans that advocated for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Thanks to the efforts of the Gang of 19, Denver became one of the first cities in the country with accessible mass transit. The protests from the ADAPT community, however, didn't end there. 

As the Denver Public Library notes in a 2015 article about the Gang of 19, "the second major wave of ADAPT protests targeted Social Security, health care policies, and Medicaid. Their ultimate goal was to obtain government support for attendant care and independent living funds. Eventually, ADAPT began protesting restaurants, schools, parking lots, post offices, housing communities, casinos, churches, and more. Wherever wheelchairs could not go, ADAPT was there to take action and demand access."

In present-day, RTD says it "holds accessibility as a core value in all of the agency’s work."

But the activists' work hasn't stopped. Last year, during a summer dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, we spoke with Dawn Russell, an organizer for the nonprofit Atlantis Community Inc., about how there is still more work to be done to achieve independent living for people with disabilities.

“No matter if it was 1978 or 2020, we’re working hard to honor what the Gang of 19 did,” Russell told Rocky Mountain PBS. “We hope that we’re honoring that by fighting all of these decades later.”

Colorado Voices

Dawn Russell Remembers Gang of 19

Dawn Russell reflects on the protests of 1978 and all that still needs to be done.

Rocky Mountain PBS Spotlight

Community stories from across Colorado and updates on your favorite PBS programs, every Tuesday morning.